tv Richard Norton Smith Douglas Brinkley Edna Greene Medford The... CSPAN April 24, 2019 1:38am-3:14am EDT
2. >> saturday night, president trump is holding a rally in wisconsin, skipping the annual white house correspondent dinner. he instructed his and ministration to boycott the dinner today. watch live coverage of the andident's rally saturday following the rally, watch live coverage of the white house correspondents dinner with featured speaker, author and chtorian ron shernoff -- ron ernow. >> coming up, a look at c-span's book "the president's." >> good evening. welcome to mount vernon. my name is kevin butterfield, director of the fred w swift national library.
for the study of george washington at mount vernon. it is my pleasure to welcome you here tonight on behalf of the mount vernon ladies association and the ford motor company each month sponsors a free book talk like this one. an opportunity for the community to come and learn from the greatest historians in the field. thank you for being here tonight. we are thrilled to have you. we will hear a brief hesitation from susan swain, copresident and chief executive officer of c-span. she will be joined by brian lam, the founder and executive chairman of c-span and moderating an esteemed group of historians discussing the american presidency. the american presidency is, as you know, a fascinating subject of inquiry in every possible way. [laughter] in the constitution, there is not much said about it. article one is quite long. article two is quite shorter.
the key phrase in it, quite frankly, is about as short as you can imagine, the executive power shall be vested in a president of the united states of america. full stop. that is the first sentence in the key phrase in the second article of the constitution which describes the presidency. much of what we know today as the american presidency has come from experience and precedent. from action. we are thrilled to have an opportunity to learn about that experience and that action. tonight, a group of wonderful historians we will tell you about tonight. we will be joined by douglas brinkley, richard norton smith, and edna medford. mr. brinkley is a presidential historian for cnn. i heard him talk and i am thrilled to read "american moonshot: john f. kennedy and the great space race." on the panel, dr. medford is the author of "lincoln: an emancipation."
richard norton smith, author of the wonderful book on george washington called "patriarch: george washington and the new american nation." he wrote books on herbert hoover and service the director of five different presidential libraries. tonight, these individuals will discuss their new book, "presidents, noted historians on the best and worst chief executives." please join me in welcoming them tonight. [applause] susan: good evening, everybody. nice to see you. and thank you, kevin. i can't think of a more appropriate place to talk about presidential leadership that mount vernon. -- dan mount vernon -- than mount vernon. it was actually c-span's 40th anniversary, but what a weekly picked -- week we picked for this book to come out.
and also to put some current events into context, we hope to do that tonight. in putting this book together, brian and i have worked on nine of these collective works of his interviews. and this one we decided to actually bring two resources into play. brian has been doing a sunday night program for 30 years. and we have an archive that is full of his interviews. the odometer in the archives is about to hit 250,000 hours this month. not all brian, but -- [applause] but among the people brian has interviewed are these three people that have become great friends of ours over the last quarter century. and some of the country leading contemporary presidential historians. in addition to having the vast
archive of collective works, about 20 years ago -- exactly 20 years ago in 1999, we did this to year-long project. -- two year long project. i have c-span colleagues knotting about what a big job -- nodding about what a big job this was. we went to a site ended a two hour-long program on their lives. it almost killed us but we made it through. we needed to put some kind of capper on it. let's do a survey of historians and take all of this biographical material that is more anecdotal in nature and put a little data and science behind it. lives. we gather together along with robert browning who is the head of our archives.
professor john swain is a teacher at the university of maryland. we got into a wonderful debate about what should the 10 qualities of leadership be? in order to do a survey of 100 presidential historians. the idea for the book was to merge the survey work that we have done three times now with the collective content of presidential biographers. so the book you will learn more about tonight is actually organized not chronologically but where the president's fell in line with that survey. you are jumping through history but you're going through a continuum from the very best to the very worst rated leaders in our country. and you learn about the characteristics and qualities that put them in that ranking. let me so you about the 10 qualities we finally agreed on. the first is public persuasion.
the second, crisis leadership. that comes in all sorts of forms. third, economic management. the fourth quality was moral authority. the fifth, international relations which includes not only diplomacy but also wore. -- ar. -- also war. the sixth is the assembly of the cabinet and advisers. the next, relations with congress. you can have that and not get a program done. the next reminds me of george w. bush, vision and setting an agenda. the next, pursued equal justice for all. and the 10th was performance within the context of their times. we sent a survey out to 100 historians. this is three times now. we worked hard to get people from different demographics and people of different political points on the spectrum so that
we could represent lots of different points of view. this survey was so successful that we now do it every time a president leaves office. president trump has not been rated and we will not formally rate him until he leaves office. but it doesn't under a lot of conversation about the current occupant of the office. i will give you a quick overview on the best and the worst so you have some context of what you will be hearing from the historians. the top five. fifth place from the top, william hitchcock is the biography we chose but historians rated eisenhower in fifth place. there is a hidden hands very about his presidency. his lowest score was public persuasion. the next we chose a wonderful biography called "wilderness
warrior." i'm sure we will learn more about douglas brinkley about why he chose t.r.'s agenda. his lowest score was equal justice, pursuing equal justice for all. in third place, franklin delano roosevelt. we chose goodwins really terrific biography on the white house years when they had all those interesting people including winston churchill living on the second floor of the white house to help them get through the war years. his lowest score was economic management. and pursuing equal justice for all.
in second place was george washington, scoring 1's and 2's. his single lowest score, and the folks in mount vernon have been working hard to help us understand us is equal justice for all. and the top winner in our survey and every survey ever done is abraham lincoln. the top score was 1000 and abraham lincoln got a score of 907. he had a terrific rating on every single one except for relations with congress where he scored a 9. who are the bottom five? with on the other end of the spectrum? john tyler is number 39. our biographer does argue that he has redeeming qualities. i invite you to read that chapter. [laughter]
the man who ended up not having a party but managed to establish the presidential succession because it was not written into the constitution. number 40, warren harding. he scored three hasn't -- 360 out of 1000. we know some much about the scandals that plagued his presidency. the biographer we selected was john dean. that john dean of watergate fame that knows a thing or two about presidential scandals. he uncovered papers of warren harding that were previously unknown to biographers and argues that he deserves a little bit better than the place the historians have given him. it is up for you to decide. next is franklin pierce. new hampshire's only president. 41st place. he also had a bit of a drinking problem. you might remember that came in to office with a tremendous
tragedy. they had three sons, you have lost two of them. and the third died in front of his wife and himself as their train capsized on their way to washington. he carried his son's dead body up from the accident and his wife had a hard time recovering from that. they spent much of the first couple of years on the second floor writing letters to her dead son. it is a very tragic story. he had a hard time focusing and assembling his cabinet, understandably. it put him behind the curve. next up, andrew johnson. 42nd place. david stewart is the biographer we chose for him. the tennessee governor loyal to the union but impeached by the republicans using the tenure of office act. guess who is dead last. james buchanan. this one hurts a little bit because i'm a pennsylvanian.
i love the biographer we chose, robert strauss. worst. president. ever. he is a full 30 points below andrew johnson. all of these people -- all of them are below william henry harrison who was only an office for one month. -- in office for one month. they were the net negative presidencies. let's look at how modern presidencies fared. ronald reagan was the only one that made it into the top 10. lou cannon, the terrific biographer is the chapter that he did. he had a lot to say about reagan's command of storytelling while he was in office.
george h.w. bush in 20th place. it will be interesting to see now that he has passed and records are available. there is a bit of a halo effect when presidents leave office. he is also book ended by the two adams presidents. bill clinton came in at 15. david marinus' seminal biography, he writes about bill clinton's duality. he could be both good and bad at the same time and it impacted everything that happened throughout his public career. how about george w? just out of the bottom 10, his highest score was pursuing equal justice for all. that is his first entry, so it will be interesting to see how he will do as time progresses. but he has some difficult problems to overcome.
hurricane katrina, the economic crisis, and ongoing wars. you'll see what historians say after time goes by. how did our most recent president do? historians rated him at number 12. a good showing for the first entry. he got 24th in international relations and 39th in relations with congress. i thought it was interesting to look at these scores. to see what the biographers had to say about how the historians rated them. i last set of slides, who is up and down? andrew jackson. down. over the course of the surveys come he went from 13 down to 18. woodrow wilson down. six to 11. you folks will have to expend this to me because i have a soft spot in my heart for rutherford b. hayes.
he dropped six points over the survey from 26 to 32. and grover cleveland, our only to turn nonconsecutive president went from number 17 to 23. who are the ones that went up? dwight eisenhower mated from number nine spot into the top five. bill clinton. i told you he was in the number 15 position. but he was in 21st in 1999 right after the impeachment process. he moved to 15 by the second time we did it and he stays there in the 2017 survey. and finally, u.s. grant. and edna will have to help me understand this one. grant is the president to change the most, going up 11 points over the course of the three surveys. i would love to hear your perspective about why historians are looking more favorably on him.
now you have three fabulous historians that have been so much a part of c-span's programming over the years that will add some context to that. thanks for your attention. [applause] brian: this book is what it is because of susan's fabulous editing capabilities. thank you, susan. [applause] richard norton smith comes to us from grand rapids, mr. brinkley from memphis, and edna from howard university. i would like to start by asking doug because lincoln's number one, he discovered got back from the lincoln library in springfield. and richard opened it for us all. it was 2006? what did you find?
doug: everyone should go visit springfield, illinois, if you can. lincoln is always number one. largely because no matter how bad other presidents think they had it, lincoln had it worse. he comes to washington d c with a body double. it wasn't called the white house until the -- theodore roosevelt dubbed that. so the executive mansion, lincoln flew when so vulnerable. i landed at dulles airport which is very close to the battle of bull run.
half of the country is putting up confederate flags and trying to find a way to keep america cobbled together. i am always amazed that we were able to hold an election in our country. lincoln is able to get reelected. when you think about it, the gettysburg address, the first and second inaugural are almost foundational text. like the bill of rights or the constitution, we are not a full nation without addressing lincoln's accomplishments. and the emancipation proclamation, the original sin of the united states with slavery. lincoln gets to be the person that leads the abolitionist crusade from the white house. and finally, his assassination.
john wilkes booth. kids study it. lincoln's body moved back to springfield where he is buried there. the train arrived, but the casket went across the country for the exact same moment that the union soldiers were laying down their arms and coming home as a kind of homecoming. lincoln has a category unto his own. if you are a book lover, it is nothing but books about abraham lincoln. all scholars want to write a book about lincoln. i never have. if i could write one, i would write about lincoln going down the mississippi river discovering the slavery markets in new orleans. brian: let's pick up what susan
asked about u.s. grant. can you explain why general grant has done so well? edna: i think every generation decides how they think about presidents. things that matter to us our integrity. i know this is a scandal filled administration, supposedly. he has surrounded himself with people that did not behave properly. but i don't think there is any real criticism of him personally. it is also about the fact that during the reconstruction, he is trying to make sure that the violence that is developing in the south is quelled. so he is willing to enforce those acts against the clan.
and we really recognize how important that was. that is one of the major things. brian: we wrote a special piece for this book and we have one of the chapters. richard norton smith writes the opening chapter and calls it a magnificent lion. would you like to explain that? norton: along with arthur schlesinger, there was a scientist -- political scientist named clayton rossiter. he wrote an essay on the presidency in which he described the president as kind of a magnificent liar. who was more or less free to roam around the reservation at will as long as he did not agree just the -- egregiously offend congress.
it was an essay perfectly attuned to the times, written in the shadow of both roosevelts, truman, and presidents that were very assertive. some would say imaginative in interpreting the range of executive power. and also governed in times of crisis. any reader will take away just how evolutionary the office of the presidency is. one of the real challenges that confronts anyone -- any one ranking president, context is a determining factor. james monroe presided over the first great depression in american history and he was reelected with all but one electoral vote. herbert hoover was in delhi and personally -- indelibly and personally associated with the
great depression. what changed? the nature of government. it changed with lincoln and tr. tr in particular, the bully pulpit, the idea that the administrative office had become one of advocacy. of moral efficacy. protecting consumers against tainted meat. and woodrow wilson had a concentration of power during the war. by the time hoover became president, people expected more from the federal government. how do we way -- weigh apples and oranges like hoover's presidency and roosevelt's presidency? anyone that plays this game, they have to grapple with that.
doug: everyone in the audience would know the monroe doctrine. and hoovervilles. sometimes people only remember a couple of things about a president. part of the virginia dynasty and having that great connection with washington and the other founders. brian: you all are to know that there will be cards on the side for those of you that want to ask questions. we will go to that before too long. this will be a 90 minute evening that we have together. so we have some time. i will go back to the three historians and ask why the three of you have devoted your life to history and to the study of presidents? edna: mines along story. -- mine is a long story. [laughter] i will try to make it short. i grew up in charleston county, virginia. the birthplace of john tyler. [laughter]
it was a county that was 82% african-american when i was growing up. i noticed that they didn't really have a lot of authority over the county. that was about all we could do. as a child, i wondered where i fit into all of that. when i went off to college, i decided -- let me be honest. i started as a biology major and realized i did not want to spend the rest of my life in a lab. i switched to history because it was something i loved. i think growing up in that kind of environment is what really propels me to this. and in terms of the lincoln scholarship -- i'm not really a presidential historian. i studied lincoln but i do not study all the presidents like these gentlemen do. i became very interested in
lincoln because of c-span, actually. because of your filming of the reenactment of the lincoln-douglas debate. i was very much interested in presidential history in general and abraham lincoln's is specifically -- lincoln specifically. norton: it is rather bizarre and knowing near as expiring -- inspiring as edna. i was a strange child. some would say it was a preview of coming attractions. [laughter] i was seven years old on election night 1960. watching as the returns came in. i was the rare massachusetts republican. i had been given a book called "abe lincoln: log cabin to white house." three years later, 1964, and author of no relation published a book called "when the caring stopped."
but also, it is a somewhat biographical aspect of the presidency. there are a lot of different ways of proposed -- approaching presidential performance. as a biographer, i find every single one of these men may be more interesting than most people do. and we also have to say, great lincoln's scholar, tells the story about when he went to the kennedy white house, and jfk was obviously not happy with the day's news coverage and he said, nobody should passed judgment on -- pass judgment on a president. who has not sat at this desk and work on the papers i came
across. i think it was special pleading there. there is only so much you can do for james buchanan. but it is true. the study of every single president is useful, and i think will deepen your understanding and appreciation of american history. it is broad but immensely admirable experiment of which we are all embarq. susan: we can't leave you without you telling the story of the trips he used to take with your parents as a young man. richard: the station wagon from hell. [laughter] richard: people don't do this anymore. i must have been about eight.
i told you, the polite word is precocious. but i had four siblings. we used to go for a month every's -- every summer, we would get in the station wagon and do a section of the country. the midwest, the deep south. guess who gets to set the itinerary? it was all set around i told you, the polite word is presidential gate -- gravesites, we found out where wilkie was buried, we had to pay our respects. that sort of thing. the only concession that we made to the others was they got a swimming pool in the evening. that was a formal study. there is no excuse -- there is nothing quite like being there. i don't know how you feel, but, andrew jackson who is not on my hit parade of presidents goes to hermitage and you will walk away from there with a much more vivid sense of who he was come including his limitations.
brian: how did you get into this? doug: i was born in atlanta, georgia. when i was young, my mom and dad would go to callaway gardens. near the gardens was the little white house of fdr, state park. i cannot believe that the president had lived in such a small little cottage house. and that he -- and he died while somebody was painting his portrait only half done, and that the pools there i thought and understood polio not being able to walk, and he actually considered himself handicapped but yet he never acted that way. then we moved to ohio, and i lived not just down the road from fremont, ohio where you have rather be they can't. it is a big deal. we call the state the mother of presidents. we claim seven of them. grant being born in north bend in ohio. there was a great bit of pride that ohio produced that many
presidents and a little bit like what richard was saying, my mom was a teacher and all of that in high school. we would take our car, a station wagon actually, and we had 24 foot coachman trailer and we would go all over the country visiting presidential sites and civil war battlefields, national parks. i have a lot of photos when i am young at the graves of presidents i visited in mount vernon in virginia when i was young. i got really into it. when i was going into college at the ohio state university undergrad, i knew i wanted to be a history major because it would never work for me. i would read a biography of great people, and i think the biographies matter. my editor was mentioning grant.
ron chernow wrote a biography of grant after his success with hamilton so that there would -- so there became a new wave of people talking about it and reassessing grant. my friend rutherford b. hayes has not had that biography. grant also, when president obama liked to say i am a writer, he was a best-selling writer and writing his memoir now, he would look at all of the other presidential writings and the one that stood out was a grant's memoir which a grant wrote with the help of mark twain. it is not about his presidency but nevertheless, it is an enduring book, the memoirs of grant, that live on forever.
those stocks of these presidents rise and fall. i was once director of the eisenhower center. we always thought ike was going to go up, up, up because the fiscal conservatives like him, and the liberals like him because the industrial military complex speech, and brown decision, and the fact of his general bowl josh his general amiable -- and the fact of his general amiable like. he is fifth. it was almost -- always true model gone -- it was always true in holding that spot. part of it also is because we have a new or appreciation of ike being the commander in world war ii. d-day. just as grant was president. susan: while we were talking about lincoln, i would like to hear your thoughts on why it is that abraham lincoln at number one's book ended by the two worst? is that circumstance of history? character? what contributed to that distinction between those three men? edna: i think that we tend to judge these presidents based on how they dealt with adversity.
there has to be something extraordinary that is happening during their administration. with lincoln, it does not get any more extraordinary than the civil war. this is a man who could have done what you -- what buchanan did and simply sat there as the country was falling apart. he chose not to do that. he came into office and decided that he was not going to allow the south to secede without challenging that. so, we judge him much higher than we would someone who just decided to leave it alone and let things take their course. it really does matter how one responds. it has got to be a person who is decisive, a person who is determined, someone who can communicate well, you can set a vision and pursue it and persuade people that this is the right way to go. i think lincoln more than any
other president was able to do that. brian: richard? richard: is it the times or the man? if you look in this context, lincoln could not have been the greatest president. if his immediate predecessors had not been among the worst residence. [laughter] richard: on the other hand, lincoln can be criticized because for rank politics, he decided to broaden his political appeal in 1864 and put -- they remain to the republican party the union party. and they picked a man named andrew johnson, who did not lack for courage. he was the only southern senator who had not left at the time, the states seceded, as wartime governor of tennessee. certainly defended the union.
but he arguably turned out to be, after the press president, you can make the case for him is the worst president. in so many ways, he is the un-lincoln. here are both men reared amongst incredible hardship. and who both overcame that in their own way economically. but andrew johnson is defined by his resentment. his childhood inflicted psychic wounds on him. resentments against aristocrats. but also against blacks. he simply failed to comprehend what the civil war was all about. all you need to know is one word. we talk about reconstruction. andrew johnson preferred to use the word restoration.
the civil war was not fought to restore the prewar status quo. lincoln was radical enough -- lincoln outgrew the society that produced him. restore the prewar status quo. andrew johnson was incapable of that kind of growth. doug: you never want to have the word impeachment swirl about you too much when you are president either. you saw that impeachment had hurt bill clinton. but he was able to shake it off a little bit as we went on further polls. andrew johnson has the big eye on him. yet he tried to redeem himself, he ran for the senate and became a u.s. senator from tennessee after he was president to try to build himself back into good graces. an argument can be made for george washington to be number one.
playing to my home audience here. [laughter] doug: we see how low washington got because of slavery and because of the time he was in. it is hard on that ranking to be rated high when -- so it brings your number down. lincoln being a child of illinois, never having slaves, that the brings his number up quite a bit. the one thing, i mean i do not think there is a presidency without george washington. because, it is important to not just be a one term or -- one termer. people who said when george walker bush died, he is the best one term president. john f. kennedy was a one term high. but it is a good sign to be reelected. like richter talked about james monroe. he did get reelected. so he is a two-termer. herbert hoover did not. it did make a difference.
with washington, one of the big things he did was step down to say, i do not want to hold power. there is something more powerful than being president and that is being an american citizen and coming back here to mount vernon and allowing democracy to take root. that is an irreplaceable quality that washington had. he set the tone and tenor of what it meant to be president. lincoln has become the favorite of all recent presidents. barack obama launches his campaign from springfield. it is about abraham lincoln and the team of rivals. george w. bush will tell you, my favorite president's lincoln. all he does is read lincoln books. nixon during the hype of watergate would think jin and talk to a lincoln portrait in the white house. theodore roosevelt wrote about it in his love of charles darwin come our site -- our great science presidents.
he just has a real cast on the imagination, lincoln, because the civil war in the end is the crucible time in our country's history. but really, washington can be tied with lincoln. those are the big two. edna: to what extent does his assassination factor into his popularity? because he was assassinated, he did not have that opportunity to join the second term to make mistakes. what would have happened had he lived? would we think of him in the same way? brian: as you know, barack obama finished 12 out of the 44. he is the first president since eisenhower to get 50% of the vote twice. two terms. what is your assessment of why he was able to do that when everybody else from eisenhower up to barack obama had trouble
getting over 50% of the popular vote in each election? edna: i think it is as a nation, we like to think of us -- of ourselves as inclusive. with obama's first selection, we showed that a black person could win. in the second election, we attempted to show it was not a fluke. i believe the kind of response he got from americans was the result of how we see ourselves in terms of our national identity. richard: not to take anything away from obama come it was clear he was an extraordinary candidate. but in 2008, he also rode a wave of anti-bush sentiment. there was no doubt that after eight years, people were eager for something different.
in some ways, obama was the un-bush. just as the current incumbent could be said to be the unknown obama -- the un-obama. perhaps george w. bush was the un-clinton. we have developed to this curious habit that i do not associate with earlier stages in our history. first of all, not since jefferson, madison monroe have we had three presidents, successive presidents elected to two terms. but the paradox is we elect this person to a second term, and then we look for someone who is that diametric opposed alternative to take their place.
i don't know if there is logic to that. susan: how much do you think it might be due to overexposure? richard: oh, god. [laughter] richard: you know, it is true. the cult personality, even those who do not have any personality. [laughter] richard: victims of a cold of personality, the white house is ringed, figuratively, by satellite trump's. we have 24 hours -- there is not enough news to fill 24 hours. in fact, if you watch it, you are not seeing news, you are hearing "analysis." which is another word for opinion. depending on which station you tune into. the fact is that the assumption is everything a president says or his wife says, or his children say, there is a clause i'm anon the goal element. i do not think he had that in mind when he talked about the imperial presidency. he was talking about a president's excessive powers. there is no doubt that chronic overexposure produces -- on a
bipartisan basis, we had bush fatigue, clinton fatigue, obama fatigue, and there i say, we have -- and there i say, we have trumped fatigue. susan: blended that -- when did that start? doug: i don't know when it started. eisenhower could have won in 1960. he could have beaten jack kennedy or richard nixon in 1960. maybe vietnam when you started seeing the collapse of the lyndon johnson with the vietnam war, and then there was gerald ford who had pardoned nixon and nixon did not finish his second term. there was some churning going on. i always find incumbency is a great benefit in modern times, just to have air force one take you around and have that much infrastructure around you.
i think obama has been the first nonwhite person is president. all of these white presidents and then barack obama, and then inheriting a great recession which we worked our way out of, started seeing signs of it by the time he ran for reelection. but also the killing of osama bin laden was a big deal. he was outlawed number one. we all wanted to get him. obama was good -- was able to say, did it on his watch. things that are forgotten outcome of the bailing of general motors, that helps in michigan, in toledo, ohio. the moves he made in his first term ended up helping him get reelected. but he did not have coattails. hillary clinton was his secretary of state but she did not have the gas in her tank because of the fatigue factor. by about 6-7 years, people start hiring of a president for sure.
even ronald reagan with all of his great breakthroughs with gorbachev and diplomacy started trailing off, people had their reagan quota. brian: do we have cards? do you know where we -- where they are? we want to make sure you have a chance to ask questions. you can pass them down the road. let me go to people that are here in the audience and also watching at home. maybe some young people. what would you advise them to do if they get interested in history? i know it sounds simple, but we at c-span, we would not be doing history if it was not for these terrific historians. 44 of them in this book. and over the years, all of the interviews i have given a spirit what would you advise a younger
person to do or someone that is not so young if they want to get started and all of this? edna: other than come talk to me? enter my class. [laughter] edna: i would tell them to read, read, read. read everything. not just the kind of history is that you are personally interested in. that all history. if i lived long enough, some day i'm going to write a book. because i am fascinated by that. but it has got to be beyond just the present. when you are interested in at the moment. you need to look broadly at history. i would tell them first and foremost do that. and also, don't necessarily start with the historians. don't start with a secondary sources. look at the primary sources. that is what will really get you excited. because you get to interpret what happened in the past. you are not looking through the eyes of someone else who is bringing certain baggage to the table. you get to interpret. look at those primary sources
first. doug: in addition to all of that, major in history in college. it is a great major. have a humanities education is tremendous. a lot of people are worried about jobs, what will i do with a history degree? my answer is if you love history, go for it. get a's in college, and after your four years commit as a springboard for other fields. you can go to a master's doctorate, go into business. it is a fine undergraduate major. and you will have. . history with you the rest of your life. you don't have to go to history to go to college. harry truman never went to college. he is one of the most well read presidents on american history we know of. he would read books and biographies all of the time getting back to your read, read, read point.
i'm just picking u.s. history, but it applies to the globe. if you can afford it and get out there, go see places, come to mount vernon, tour the museum's. they are always changing displays at historical sites. get engaged with the local history site. whether it is a fort, a cemetery, whether it is the home of somebody, become a friend of one of those historic sites that is in your neighborhood, or county or whatever. so that you can start feeling like you can learn from experts and share your ideas with people. brian: richard, would you tell us where you are at this moment in your research and your writing on gerald r. ford? richard: the research and writing are different points. writing, i finished a chapter, which was the longest chapter -- it took me an obscene amount of time because i kept rewriting it.
i have a lot of new material. i have written 600 pages thus far and i have 400 to go. i think i have about another year and a half or so. and the book will appear in 2021. brian: why should we care about a biography on gerald r. ford? richard: that is a fair question. one, gerald ford, rather like ronald reagan, has made a career very shrewdly on his part on being underestimated. to most people, -- historically, kind of an accident who finished off -- i discovered his presidency is much more about the future than it is about completing a nixonian agenda.
for example, economic deregulation. a thing we take for granted. we argue about it. nevertheless, it is part of our lives. it started under ford. because ford asked the question, do we need an interstate commerce commission? in 1974. not led to other questions being asked. ultimately, they deregulated the financial services and they tried to deregulate airlines. and it is generally because jimmy carter fixed it up, it became a bipartisan and then a global thing. margaret thatcher gave it a new
name, privatization. but it started very modestly. that is typical. the bottom line is there is a lot of unknown history associated with the ford presidency. and the nice thing is he turns out to be a more interesting, complicated person. and i thought i knew him ready well. tonight -- pretty well. and i have learned a lot of things. i have learned some things that i suspect he did not know about himself. brian: tomorrow morning if you are watching this live at 9:00, folks will be on our c-span call in show to take calls from the audience. susan: we can stay here for a while, i have great ones. john asks, and we talked about kennedy and the than, kennedy and the and are the two seminal presidents in my lifetime. how do you rank them and why? doug: i ranked john f. kennedy quite high. i say that after really understanding his incredible leadership. when he came in the youngest elected president ever, that idea of public service that is put in his inaugural and he created the peace corps, and the seals, and green beret, and he was trying to inspire young people to work in government, but also his interest in science. in 1960, scientists were chosen as times people of the year. science was in the air.
john f. kennedy, not just said let's go to the moon by the end of the decade and we did it with our apollo program under nasa, and you had six successful mercury astronauts with john f. kennedy, but he was starting to purse -- to pursue mapping of ocean floors. he embraced people like rachel carson, 1962, silence spring which gave birth to the monitored environmental movement. he did moves with civil rights, with the freedom rides and the assassination of edgar evers. nixon had some successes. when he -- there is a bit of a tape, late 1972, nick's and beat mcgovern in the biggest landslide in american history. on tape you can hear him saying, somebody has got to write a book
about 1972, i am the best about 1972, i am the best president ever. i just won the biggest landslide. he went on on all of the things he did. the next month, watergate happened. his reputation has been destroyed by the combination of those tapes with anti-semitic sellers and the watergate fiasco. nixon has not been able to track, you will not see him ranked so high. the tapes killed his presidency. because they were the smoking gun. they also are hurting him from rising in history, whereas kennedy because of the
assassination in dallas, will always be the great young man, gunned down in his prime to we will never see an old john f. kennedy. he is in our mind fixed at the prime of his life. like was mentioned, the lincoln assassination and the drama, it is a lot of, if kennedy had lived, would we have gone into vietnam? there is almost a mythological underpinning to both lincoln and kennedy because of those untimely and ugly premature deaths. brian: let's go to richard and we will come back to edna. richard: we talk about overexposure. it started in 1960. it is not his fault, john f. kennedy was a brilliant television performer. he was arguably the first celebrity in chief. in some ways, he was so skillful, for example, look at the press conferences. he was so good that he set the bar terribly high. and very few of his predecessors could match it. what he also unleashed was television's preoccupation with the presidency.
the footnote to that, we think of jfk as the first television president. but it was nixon with the speech in 1952, who had this instinct of -- i am not even sure he understood it at the time, the enormous power of that medium, young, untested, to move people. overnight, richard nixon became something -- richard nixon is a unique vice president in that he had a personal falling. because of that speech, there were millions of people, before he ever talked about silent majority, those were the people he was appealing to in 1952. in effect, he took the decision about staying on the ticket which was pretty shrewd.
later, richard nixon -- he very skillfully used to television in the white house. for example, at the time of the vietnam demonstrations in washington as a silent majority speech. he was one of the less presidents who could assure himself with a phone call, the three men in power in new york and he would have 70 million people that night sitting in front. you can all remember, in oval office presidential press was a unifying event. the only counter to it was the analysis on cbs. today, we do not see many oval office addresses. what we do, before the president finishes the first sentence, there are 20 million people out there who are twittering their own instance analysis. brian: does that terrific for free speech? richard: it is not good for the presidency. [laughter] richard: what is more important? brian: what do you say about nixon and kennedy?
edna: kennedy was certainly more beloved. in my house when i was growing up, the only people whose images were on the walls where the kennedys. jackie and john. everybody else on my walls were relatives. [laughter] edna: my father who was a republican, don't tell anyone, became a democrat when kennedy ran for office. but he still had a certain admiration for nixon. he felt he was a great president until watergate. he never changed his affiliation after going with kennedy but he certainly did have a certain kind of appealing toward nixon. i find an extent to be much more interesting than kennedy. because nixon was so flawed.
your book really spells it out. it comes out loud and clear. this is a man who was very insecure, who probably would have liked to have done the right thing, but just couldn't because it was in his background or whatever. but i think we can identify more with nixon in terms of his flaws then we can with kennedy who was supposedly perfect. and we now know he was not. brian: i want to make sure you all know that in the 44 chapters of this book, there is a different author, a different historian writing each one of them. plus we have a website set up for people like me, reading this book and interviewing these
authors, constantly being told things i absolutely had no idea about. it sent me to the research, the primary sources as you say, and we have tried to reflect that in our website. those of you who want to get on the website and find all of the background on this, you can do that. susan: this is a lightning round question. for the two who are in the midst of books being published, which president was the best writer? doug: i like theodore roosevelt. i loved how he wrote over 35 bucks, 130 50,000 letters. his writing is about america's outlook -- outdoor senior wonders. he was an avid reader also. spoke foreign-language is. he may not be quite the legal intellectual of thomas jefferson who was almost -- also a fine writer but i would put tr at the top. richard: i would say lincoln. in a utilitarian way. lincoln is the a great -- is the original great communicator. there was no public opinion polls.
he was flying by the seat of his pants. and exposure he did have two people, which he went out of his way even in wartime to make sure was possible. if you look at the second inaugural address, i would argue it is the greatest sermon in american history. and i do not think -- i also think maybe the second greatest speech by a president. it is actually wilson's speech and april, 1917. when wilson who had been very reluctant to take america into the war finally decided he had no choice. once he decided that, he became a crusader. and he wrote an extraordinary speech. i recommend everyone take a look at it.
edna: i have to agree, lincoln, hands down. and it is because of the second inaugural address. his public private letters to his friends and to republican allies were really extraordinary as well. he said so much in those letters to them. and he meant them to be public. you may have been doing this privately but he knew they would come out. so i think there is no other president that was able to communicate as well as he was. he was able to just with the word, which is extraordinary, sometimes very complex, but still very extraordinary. brian: at the front of our book is a picture of peter drumming who is at the massachusetts historical society. i took this picture so i am
proud of this. it is peter drumming looking closely at the john quincy adams diary which those of you who have never read it or seen it, it is a magnificent thing. that is at the front of our book. susan: this is from someone in the audience. we know from our work at c-span, he has been a white house reporter for 11 years. he was distressed with the attacks on the press happening now. he writes, i fear the anger and distress will endure long after the trump administration to how do we restore trust? one thing that is clear, every president has had a problem with the press. you can find it in chapter after chapter. you talked about that in the podcast we did about how these are not new things we're going through. is the relationship with the press worse than it has been at any point in history? edna: i think the problem is that when we deal with alternative facts, when we deal with enemy of the people, when we use terms like that, it does erode trust in a sacred american institution.
although we have had those issues in the past with presidents and the press, i don't think it has been quite the way it is now. americans have learned to distrust what they are reading. and that is not necessarily a bad thing. but when you believe that the press is out to get someone, because that is what you hear all of the time, that becomes problematic. i do not know that we are ever going to get back to that point where the american people actually believe that the press is working for them, as opposed to against them. brian: what about the sedition acts? doug: i was just going to say, nixon, not just enemies of the people, but had a list of reporters he wanted to do away with and yet the reporters got nixon in the end.
i do not find when you read this book in presidential history, it is usually smart to constantly be warring with the press. most of the presidents don't like journalism. pleading in the sense they do not like the stories being written about them. jack kennedy who wanted to be a journalist, he wanted to get rid of david halberstam from writing for the new york times. he went after them. reagan did it very well. he just floated above it. he did not read every negative -- you can't read all of the press or listen to cable news and every bad thing in response -- and respond to it because you get hatred in you and you start going after reporters by name and trying to dehumanize them. i'm afraid next and and trump both do that -- nixon and trump both the do that which puts them on a bottom ranking for how they do with press relations. tr's trick was to tell a reporter how great their recent article was. they all floated up with him. then he would invite cartoonists to the house and get them all going to write a negative cartoon about his opponents or the fireside chats of fdr.
he would call reporters in and spin the globe. it is better to interact in a positive way in that respect for the first amendment and our great press, but trump and nixon are not alone in hating a certain journalist. it is the way both of them responded to it in a destructive way. richard: i read remind you that the president who has the best relations with working reporters was a former newspaper editor. enough said. [laughter] richard: on the other hand, i have to say, president ford, he is an anomaly. he liked reporters. he actually liked them. when plans were being drawn up
for his funeral, there were two masts. -- must's. he wanted jimmy carter, which surprised a lot of people who did not realize that they had become very close friends. secondly, he wanted a journalist. unfortunately, he passed away so he called another journalist and asked if he would do it as a favor. it started out his career as a white house correspondent. he was one of the speakers in the cathedral. ford -- when he lived in alexandria and he was a republican house leader, his home -- phone number was in the book. his private number, every reporter in town had it. he used to quote peter was a gore, a great reporter from the chicago daily news i believe.
who said that the role of the reporter is akin to that of a man on horseback who rides down the middle of the street, breaking an equal number of windows on each side. [laughter] susan: someone asked, was possessive humor considered one of the important presidential attributes? and was that in mind, where did calvin coolidge rank? [laughter] richard: he did not say much but what he said was funny. [laughter] richard: grover cleveland who was -- true story, grover cleveland, very popular on capitol hill. late one night, middle of the night, mrs. cleveland wakes the president.
and says, there are thieves in the house. he says, no, my dear, thieves in the senate. [laughter] richard: harry truman said, without a sense of humor, a man would go crazy in the oval office. and i think there is a lot of truth to that. doug: i once did a book on the notes of ronald reagan. the cap to this elaborate note card system filled with jokes. any speech he would go, you could pick, it could be dogs or clubs, he would -- he would pull the card and he would put these jokes in his speech. it would win over very well. reagan was all about human. i think it is a key quality to being a successful president like you said. there are exceptions, when we do
not find the humor there. overall, presidents have to show a robust sense of humor because you take -- if you take yourself too seriously, you become a bore. susan: was lincoln funny? edna: incredibly so. he sometimes overdid it. his members were a little annoyed because he did not seem to be quite as serious at turtle -- at certain times. when he was telling a joke -- i remember the movie "lincoln," that was so true, something is happening and lincoln decides to tell a story and it is -- and is told pretty much, shut up. i think that humor had more to do with helping the man then it did with winning over the people. certainly with lincoln. he said i believe -- he is reported to have said, if i could not live, i would cry. it was extremely important.
richard: in the profession where you -- your values can get distorted, it is proof that you are grounded. susan: two people asked the same question. a want to know who is the most overrated president? -- underrated. distorted, it is proof that you doug: i will just say, we mentioned james monroe. i think he is underrated. richard was giving brian a book there, an era of good feelings earlier. but monroe has not had that take seminole biography the way david mccall wrote a book on john adams or one of those treatments. i think there is an opening for munro to be understood more. as a foreign-policy president. the most overrated is hard. because it is the most -- i just can't quite -- because i do not think our top group are
overrated. i think they are all about right. it might be we overinflated modern presidents because they are part of our own time and we lose sight of some of the residents from the 19th century because we just in not know them as well. there might be a modernity inflation going on here with some presidents. brian: edna, you are in -- he wrote a chapter would you like to comment on the? [laughter] edna: i do not even remember when i gave that. [laughter] edna: -- brian: glad you did because otherwise we would not have a moderator. [laughter] edna: he could have done more during that period. there is so much happening in terms of abolitionism.
like buchanan, he really does not do -- leaders are supposed to take the lead, they are supposed to let other people know where they stand and move the country in what they think is the best direction. i do not think he did that. i agree. if i may say, to me the most underrated at least until fairly recently is lyndon johnson. because we still give kennedy the credit for all of the civil rights legislation, but it really was lyndon johnson who pushed that. we should give him a lot more credit. brian: he is seven, not 43. edna: that is true. how he managed to get that -- [laughter] brian: richard? richard: the most overrated president, and i am very specific, talking about the
president is thomas caps on. people tend to forget the second term was a disaster. he imposed something called the embargo. which was designed to prevent war with europe's warring powers. it pretty much blew up in his face and had to be repealed subsequently. brian: can i ask you about the embargo act? did they really tiedown all american ships in this country for some 18 months? richard: in effect, they did. new england was the maritime part of the country. was already an area of suspicious. unintentionally, but it also contributed to some real divisions, fundamental divisions in the union. the most underestimated, in some ways i would say the least known who deserves to be better known is william mckinley who before tr, in many ways, could be said to be the first modern president.
sort of straddles the 20th century. somewhat against his will, took america under the world stage and not only in the spanish-american war, but also said it -- is the first president without congressional approval to send troops to the rebellion in china. also, remember, mckinley was elected in the midst of a depression. he was the advanced agent of prosperity and was one of those rare campaign slogans that panned out. mckinley has a lot going for him. doug: i am going to defend thomas jefferson. [laughter] doug: i think the louisiana purchase alone in 1803, the doubling the size of our country and the westward expansion idea
of jefferson with lewis and clark, and zebulun pike and the like, i think that act is so large and also you were talking about reading lincoln's leavings and his writings. man, you read thomas jefferson on religious freedom, i once read a letter he wrote to a nun in new orleans that will give you chills on how advanced his thinking was, in that one regard about the importance of religious freedom. i get the inflation bit and some of the product -- the problems with jefferson's presidency but i would rank him high. susan: i have a very similar thing on lincoln. i will use this as the basis. lincoln's emancipation proclamation freed only true -- sleeves -- freed slaves in those areas he controlled. is it correct to call him the great emancipator or was it
master propaganda for both his time in the times after th -- afterward? edna: i think one can be tied to emancipation without taking all of the credit for it. there were many people and groups who were bothered. in the freedom of enslaved people. lincoln freed those folk in the confederacy, those areas still in rebellion because he could not touch them anyplace else. because of the constitution. i think we can forgive him for that, although it took me a while to get there. [laughter] edna: to suggest -- that title, great emancipator, suggests he did it alone. he would never suggest he did it alone. the union military is very much
a part of this. african-americans themselves are very much a part of it because they are walking away from slavery long before lincoln issues the proclamation. the proclamation is an extremely important thing because it does give people the license to leave. but they are leaving before he does that. but to suggest that he is the only person who is involved in emancipation is unfortunate. brian: quick question for both of you. you did a book on jimmy carter. on this list, he is 26. fair? doug: middle president. great american. won the nobel prize. when he passes, he is in his 90's and he is confronting brain cancer now. we -- he will look at the importance of the camp david, human rights, recognizing
people's republic of china, panama canal, he is the president who officially recognized china. there is a group of things that carter did that are quite significant. but alas, one term president and there was a reagan revolution in 1980. and it went for generations there were no such thing as a card or. he does not have the political legs of even somebody like bill clinton did with his wife hillary and projecting decades down the line. brian: you did a book on herbert hoover. your chapter is in here. he is 36. fair? richard: hoover -- i would say hoover and william howard taft are unique in the history of the presidency. men who were fabulously successful at everything else they did, except the presidency. and that is significant. herbert hoover saved more lives, said a more hungry people during and after two world wars than hitler's, stalin, and now
together managed to wipe out. that is not a bad thing to have that is not a bad thing to have on your tombstone. what he was not, he did not have a political bone in his body. he knew it, he acknowledged it, probably if he had -- he probably should not have run for an office that is quintessentially political. on the other hand, we can play games. in 1920, franklin roosevelt wrote a letter to a fellow democrat saying they wished they could dominate hoover for president. both parties were interested because of his record in world i, beating belgium and the like. if hoover had been elected in 1920 instead of warren harding, if franklin roosevelt have been
elected in 1928 instead of 1942, it is a game. but it just goes -- breaks the element of chance. in the case of hoover, he would always have been burdened by the fact that he was -- his dna was just lacking in the political instinct. susan: seven minutes left. brian: any more questions? susan: i can find one. jonathan wants to know, would non-incumbent parties have as many primary candidates in previous times as we seem to have in the last two cycles? we are getting close to 20's in the dams. 17 republican candidates. richard: primaries are a relatively recent -- it is part of the progressive era in the early 20th century. starting in wisconsin.
it was in the late 40's and 50's that primaries became -- susan: let me ask the question. did we select better candidates in the smoke-filled rooms than we do through the primary process? richard: sure. except for warren harding. [laughter] richard: lincoln, in effect, was a product of the smoke-filled room. brian: would you like to go back to that? richard: as opposed to primaries? yes. the problem with the electoral process today is it is so -- it is like kabuki theater. it is so stylized, so scripted, it is frankly performed with that camera in mind. and that has distorted our democracy are deeply than any other single factor. doug: i think that is the big point. in 1952, they started covering the conventions and then there became the birth of what is a telegenic candidate.
now everyone wants to run because it is about brand building and name recognition and because they are building their branding, their twitter followers, lecture fees, book advances in all of that. it is unfortunate. we seem to be running these presidential elections like 2.5 years long. it has become a very drawn out process which i think is a bit unfortunate but i do not know how that is going to stop in this kind of media culture we live in today. susan: can i follow up on that? how do you feel as historians about multimillionaire, former presidents, in this a day and age versus harry truman who did not even have a pension, how our view of this has changed, what do you think this is doing for people's perception of the presidency? richard: it is more of celebrity fixation of the office. it is almost inevitable.
again, it is that camera. brian: do you want us to turn that off? [laughter] edna: you have given up your life for four years or eight years. you have compromised your health. you have angered half of the population most of the time. don't you deserve something after all of that is over? you have given up your youth. look at how these people age during their presidency. don't they deserve something at the end of that? not necessarily the millions and millions of dollars they get for speeches, but they deserve something other than the pension. doug: jimmy carter refuses to sit on corporate boards. there are examples of presidents not wanting to cash in, so to speak, on the presidency. the amount of money you get for a memoir now, you are talking
over $10 million just on your way out for your memoir contract. brian: in your research, have you found why gerry ford start getting money for speeches? richard: when he left office he was broke. brian: why did harry truman go home and stay home? richard: that is a fair question. there is a myth that the presidency changes people. you knew that richard nixon would leave office and would spend every breath trying to rebuild his reputation, particularly through foreign affairs. everything he did. you knew when gerry ford left office, he would play as much golf as he could, and he would sit on boards because he
happened to believe in the private sector. what people do not pay much attention to, he also did 200 college campuses free of charge. he enjoyed that. there is no doubt, the first week he was president, he asked someone, he said, when do i get my first check? because he was literally living from check to check. brian: in the last couple of minutes we have, talking about the same thing, mount vernon is paid for entirely by private money, run by the mount vernon ladies association. rutherford b. hayes has a state-funded library in the middle of ohio. every other library is funded by federal taxpayer dollars. plus the foundations. what is it about george washington that today, it is all paid for by private money? richard: because he is george washington. [laughter] that.as simple as we would not be here. we would not be having this discussion.
you could make a case there would not be an american republic if if it were not for george washington. his presidency is about restraint. there is assertiveness, but ultimately, it is about restraint. it is about walking away from power. it is about not confusing yourself with the office or the country of which you are a temporary steward. that example alone it seems to thes likely to generate kind of veneration and financial support that mount vernon has earned over the years. >> why is this the single most successful presidential site of the u.s.? >> because of the mount vernon ladies association. [applause] >> it really is. i think we have to give them credit for all they have done. overseen this place evolve
the last couple of decades. they have done a terrific job. they could grow a bit further. we would like to push them in that direction, but i think they have done an incredible job. part of the fundraising is because of them, their dedication. >> final comment. virginians' for history and all they do in the state. whether it is james madison. or you go to fredericksburg. it is still a great state to do presidential history tourism. whether you are studying the american revolution or the civil war or the 20th century, you can go to woodrow wilson's home. it's really an extraordinary state. this is the anchor, the flagship of historical tourism, coming to mount vernon. it is the crown jewel of what virginia does. >> do you want to wrap it up? >> i want to thank you and all
of our colleagues for being here tonight. you have been a terrific audience. a special thanks to the staff and management here at mount vernon. what better place could we start a conversation about president and our book about presidents than here at george washington's home? thanks to all of you for allowing us to be here and the great audience tonight. >> thank all these three folks for what they do. [applause] >> while i cannot invite all the people watching live tonight on c-span, i'm delighted to invite all of you here at mount vernon to join us for a coffee and dessert reception at the lobby. see you out there. [applause]
[captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2019] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] book, thes newest presidents, noted historians rank the best and worst chief executive. providing insights to the 44 american presidents. true stories gathered by interviews.
explore the life events that shaped our leaders, challenges they faced, and the legacies they have left behind. order your copy today. c-span's the presidents is now available as a hardcover or e-book at c-span.org. >> here is a look at the live coverage wednesday. on c-span at 10 a.m. eastern, the brookings institution takes a look at nuclear deterrence with david trachtenberg who serves as deputy defense undersecretary for policy. that is followed by a discussion on u.s. policy towards iran from the hudson institute at noon eastern. on c-span2, massachusetts democratic representative seth moulton visits bedford, new hampshire after announcing his candidacy for president earlier this week. later, the national commission on military national and public service holds a set of hearings on registration requirements for
the selective service system. after that, we will bring you a discussion on the effect of china's trade conflicts on the international financial system. on c-span3, politico looks at how extreme weather impacts disaster relief efforts. that is at 8:30 a.m. eastern. >> before we move on to the supreme court, can i say what you really need to know and here we go. read them down. foundations, federalism, public opinion, participation, political parties, campaigns and elections, congress, president and courts. those are the big ten. the entire test covers those 10 topics. >> are you a student preparing for the event is meant u.s. government politics and exempt? don't miss your chance to be part of washington journal's annual cram for the exam program on saturday, may 4 at 9 a.m. eastern for a live discussion
for high school government teachers. >> our question is about its significance. >> logrolling is one of those words our students struggle with too. vote-rigging.t of the idea is if you are try to get a big bill passed, it helps to have some quid pro quo, this for that. youou add this project, if add that earmark, you get more support of votes.that is logrolling . >> watch washington journal's annual cram for the exam on saturday, may 4 at 9 a.m. eastern on c-span. court heard oral arguments about whether the trump administration could proceed in adding a question about